Survival Medicine: Insect Bites and Stings

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Something that a lot of us fail to think about until we are in the moment is the ramification of being bitten or stung by a not-so-friendly insect.  In most cases, such stings are annoying and painful but for the most part benign.  Sometimes, though, the toxins from insect stings can be harmful, if not deadly.  This is especially true when the receiving party, namely you or a family member, experiences an allergic reaction.

Whether it is a spider bite, a bee sting, a wasp sting, or some other insect sting, being prepared and knowing what to do should be part of your overall preparedness and wellness plan.

Insect Bites and Stings - Backdoor Survival

Today I am thrilled to bring in Backdoor Survival Contributing Author, Joe Alton, to tell us about insect bites, and how we should deal with them in a survival situation.

Dealing with Insect Bites and Stings From Bees, Wasps & Hornets

In a survival scenario, you will see a million insects for every snake; so many, indeed, that you can expect to regularly get bitten by them. Insect bites usually cause pain with local redness, itching, and swelling but are rarely life-threatening.

The exceptions are black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders, and various caterpillars and scorpions.  Many of these bites can inject toxins that could cause serious damage. Of course, we are talking about the bite itself, not disease that may be passed on by the insect.  We will discuss that subject in the section on mosquito-borne illness. In this article, we’ll talk about bees, wasps, and hornets.

Stinging insects can be annoyances, but for up to 3% of the population, they can be life-threatening. In the United States, 40-50 deaths a year are caused by hypersensitivity reactions.

For most victims, the offender will be a bee, wasp or hornet. A bee will leave its stinger in the victim, but wasps take their stingers with them and can sting again.  Even though you won’t get stung again by the same bee, they send out a scent that informs nearby bees that an attack is underway. This is especially true with Africanized bees, which are more aggressive than native bees.  Wasps and hornets (also called Vespids) can also be persistent in their pursuit of the intruder (that’s you). As such, you should leave the area immediately whether the culprit was a bee, wasp or hornet.

The best way to reduce any reaction to bee venom is to remove the bee stinger as quickly as possible. Pull it out with tweezers or, if possible, scrape it out with your fingernail or sharp-edged object. The venom sac of a bee should not be manipulated as it will inject more irritant into the victim. The longer bee stingers are allowed to remain in the body, the higher chance for a severe reaction.

Most bee and wasp stings heal with little or no treatment. For those that experience only local reactions, the following actions will be sufficient:

  • Clean the area thoroughly.
  • Remove the stinger if visible.
  • Place cold packs and anesthetic ointments to relieve discomfort and local swelling.
  • Control itching and redness with oral antihistamines such as Benadryl or Claritin.
  • Give Acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce discomfort.
  • Apply antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.

Topical essential oils may be applied (after removing the stinger) with beneficial effect.  Use Lavadin, helichrysum, tea tree or peppermint oil, applying 1 or 2 drops to the affected area, 3 times a day. A baking soda paste (baking soda mixed with a small amount of water) may be useful when applied to a sting wound.

Although most of these injuries are relatively minor, there are quite a few people who are allergic to the toxins in the stings. Some are so allergic that they will have what is called an “anaphylactic reaction”.  Instead of just local symptoms like rashes and itching, they will experience dizziness, difficulty breathing and/or faintness.  Severe swelling is seen in some, which can be life-threatening if it closes the person’s airways.

Those experiencing an anaphylactic reaction will require treatment with epinephrine as well as antihistamines.   People who are aware that they are highly allergic to stings should carry antihistamines and epinephrine on their person whenever they go outside.

Epinephrine is available in a pre-measured dose cartridge known as the Epi-Pen (there is a pediatric version, as well).

The Epi-pen is a prescription medication, but few doctors would begrudge a request for one.  Make sure to make them aware that you will be outside and may be exposed to possible causes of anaphylaxis.  As a matter of fact, it may be wise to have several Epi-Pens in your possession.

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The Final Word

I hate swarming bees, hornets, wasps and the like.  I never know if I should stay still, run away, or just ignore them.  That said, it is good to know what to do if I get bit so that I can minimize the pain and suffering that usually follows.

Dealing with wasp and bee stings is one thing.  Dealing with mosquitoes and disease carrying insects is another.  New strains seem to be appearing almost weekly and they are in no way benign; people are dying. In the next installment, Joe (Dr. Bones), while share tips and solutions for dealing with those nasty mosquitoes so that we stay safe an healthy no matter how insidious they become.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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Quikclot Sport Brand Advanced Clotting Sponge: A must for any first aid or emergency kit, Quikclot Sport stops moderate to severe bleeding until further medical help is available.

Israeli Battle Dressing, 6-inch Compression Bandage: This is another inexpensive, yet critical item. Combat medics, trauma doctors, and emergency responders all recommend this Israeli Battle Dressing (IBD) for the treatment of gunshot wounds, puncture wounds, deep cuts, and other traumatic hemorrhagic injuries.

Where There Is No Doctor: Hesperian’s classic manual, Where There Is No Doctor, is perhaps the most widely-used health care manual in the world.

Vigilant Trails First Aid Kit: This kit is very popular with BDS readers. It contains 72 pieces of high quality first aid products and is equipped to help you manage minor cuts, abrasions, rashes, burns, insect bites, allergies, upset stomach, headaches, body aches, blisters, infections, mild dehydration, chapped skin and lips and exposure to poisonous plants containing Urushiol Oil (Poison Oak, Ivy and Sumac). Housed in a small crush proof plastic container, measuring just 5″ X 3.5 ” X 1 7/8″.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): For less than $8, this pack of 10 is a great deal. Free shipping too.

Earloop Procedure Face Masks 50/Box: Blue pleated ear loop procedure masks with glass-free filter. These 3-ply fluid resistant face masks are fiberglass free and designed to eliminate fogging. They offer bacteria filtration, with efficiency at 3.0 microns. Aluminum nose guard for extra comfort. Latex-free.

3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduces your exposure to airborne particles. Less than $10 for 20.

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Comments

Survival Medicine: Insect Bites and Stings — 18 Comments

  1. I’m not allergic to the stings, just the pain! I have an abundance of red wasps in my area, so I try to keep benadryl capsules around.

  2. He’s correct about the follow up measures, but a baking soda and water, thick paste, will relieve pain in nearly ten minutes or less. Still, try to take out the stinger, if one has been inserted, while someone makes the paste.

    • in a pinch you can use baking soda tooth paste- works well too and more compact and ready. also I really wouldnt let the stinger sit in the skin to long- the stinger normally (with bees) comes out with the posion sack and will continue to inject the venom. Red wasps (aka mahogany wasps) are the most aggressive of the wasps.

    • In a pinch, providing there isn’t an allergy issue, the fastest thing you can do is to spit on it immediately after removal of any stinger part(s). Some may not know, with our saliva, we have the component of bicarb to help us begin the process of digestion. Actually, along with the other components of our saliva, there are enzymes which also break down the venom . This is staying to basics, but if a collapse is long enough or we just don’t have our carry bag, remember this.

  3. Just for the record, swarming bees are not aggressive and seldom sting. They’re too busy looking for a new place to live. (My husband extracts unwanted swarms from homes and businesses.)

  4. An important note about Epi-Pens. They have very short expiration dates and that expiration date means something. The chemicals break down and completely lose their effectiveness after they expire. Also, the effects of an Epi-Pen wear off in about an hour, so if you are having a serious reaction, you aren’t out of the woods yet.

    An Epi-Pen can save your life, but understand the limitations.

    Every good first aid kit should contain several doses of an antihistamine. A max dose does more than just control minor itching. It can keep you breathing. Easily purchased over the counter and they last a lot longer.

  5. I’m highly allergic to bee/wasp stings and I am also allergic to epinephrine so I have found that I now have to carry at least a quart of bleach with me as the bleach does counter the venom. I have to have help pouring because I squeeze the area at the same time. I have a really good plastic bottle just for my bag when I go out- it seals really well and it can from the dollar tree of all places! I also have to watch for anything related to a coconut seeings Im allergic to that too! but these allergy s don’t stop me from being outside! You just have to know what works for you and roll with it

  6. At a Christmas tree farm about 10 years ago, I managed to get my legs covered in Florida’s red ants. After de-bugging me, the owner covered me in Absorbine Jr. That stuff stopped the stinging and swelling immediately! I always keep a few bottles around the house now. When our family works in the yard, it’s a [stinky] miracle!

    (I hope it’s okay to mention the brand name here — if not, please just delete my post!)

  7. Dear Gaye, my question is not about this blog’s subject but something else. Recently I’ve been getting mail from something called Survival Life.com. Do you know anything about them? They appear to be a newsletter but are actually a purely sales website. Each link leads to a presentation that leads to buying the ebook. I was all set to buy one and then read the fine print in which I would be giving them permission to charge my card for updates. I emailed the fulfillment company, which is in The Netherlands, and they said to contact the sales company. By then I was tired of looking for addresses and phone numbers and have been sending it all to spam. But I would really like to know if they are legitimate and if their ebooks contain true and new knowledge or just rehashing what most preppers already know. I was particularly interested in the one on hardening your home and surviving an attack on a regular woodframe house. If you can check this out, many thanks. Karen

    • I get their emails all the time– yeah they sell a ton of stuff but they also have alot of articles for preppers that are very informational.I have bought the credit card knife and the wallet 11-1 off them and for only $2.98 shipping, they are worth it. But I would keep looking at them because you never know– the only thing I don’t purchase is the dvd/books off them just for the reason you described. the update charge is $20 and up.

    • The $7 eBooks are $7 (really!) and there is no upcharge. They do have a program called “Lamplighter” that is $20 a month but you do not have to enroll in the $20 program to make a one-time purchase. If you can tell me specifically which book or books you are interested in, I can send you a link for the straight purchase with no additional payment required.

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I have been away for three weeks and have a ton of emails and comments to attend to.

  8. I have been stung by wasps,hornets and bees. If you take about 5000 milligrams of Vitamin C,the pain,swelling will be gone in minutes. Some of these posts mention Absorbine,but what if you get stung in the back ? When I venture outdoors,which is most of the time,I always have a bottle of 1000 milligram C with me,especially when I ride my ATV.

  9. As well as Benadryl you can also use Tagamet, by mouth Tagamet is an antihistamine it is a h2 antagonist antihistamine which will last for up to 12 hours, another thing on stinge is tobacco you can chew a small amount of tobacco and put it directly on the sting to help with the pain and swelling.
    Now if you get stung by a stingray you should put the injured area in water as hot as you can stand it the heat destroys the venom stops the swelling and pain.

  10. I must tell all that toothpaste–generic, any brand– relieves the sting instantly.
    It’s always available and who doesn’t have it?
    I take a bit in my bag with me now. LOL–my husband takes it and used it on a sting in the woods. He has a huge knot, but no pain, or itch.
    It is great for burns as an instant relief from pain.

    Hope this helps; esp. those with young ones around.

  11. please to not use tweezers to pull out a stinger; it will only squeeze more venom into you. always scrape it out with a fingernail or some other tool.
    btw, i always thought the tobacco remedy was an old wives’ tale until i tried it. it stopped the pain nicely.

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